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Posts Tagged ‘political economics

France’s nuclear colonial legacy in Algeria

Malia Bouattia Feb. 12, 2021

President Emmanuel Macron’s recent statement that a “memories and truth” commission will be established to look into the history of the French colonisation of Algeria, has led to much public discussion over this bloody legacy.

And in this context, the absence of apologies or offers of reparations by the French state has not gone unnoticed. 

One area of particular contention in this process is the ongoing and detrimental effects of France’s nuclear testing in Algeria, (open air testings) conducted throughout the 1960s. 

France conducted its first nuclear test known as the “Gerboise Bleue” in February 1960 in the Sahara Desert – an atomic bomb that was 4 times the strength of Hiroshima. 

A total of 17 tests were carried out, four of them atmospheric detonations, and 13 underground.

Mustapha Khiati, president of the National Foundation for Health Progress and Research Development (FOREM) in Algeria, states that France had actually conducted 57 nuclear tests. In addition to the 17 tests, which are often mentioned, another 35 took place in Hammoudia in the Reganne region of the Sahara, and five nuclear experiments in In Ecker.

Nuclear testing continued in the region until 1966, four years after the independence of Algeria from French colonial rule, due to a clause in the Evian Accords which were signed by the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA).

The accords established the parameters for Algerian independence. The defeated colonial power demanded to be able to continue to destroy Algeria’s environment and poison its people. 

At the time of the tests, around 40,000 people lived in the affected area, and the tests had a horrific effect on these communities. Many were impacted directly, while others were poisoned over time due to the radiation. In fact, 60 years after Gerboise Bleue, babies are still being born with illnesses and malformations. 

The destruction caused to the land and animal species in the Sahara is also often overlooked. The radiation has caused a reduction in livestock and biodiversity as well as the vanishing of certain migratory birds and reptiles. The tests even led to the movement of sand dunes.

Algeria is still waiting to be told where the toxic waste was buried

“These nuclear tests need to be seen in the context of a cruel and inhuman colonial experience that was synonymous with expropriation, genocide, racism and pauperisation,” explains Hamza Hamouchene, co-founder of Algeria Solidarity Campaign and Environmental Justice North Africa.

Nuclear waste remains in the region with the French state refusing to take action to – literally – clean up its (radioactive) mess.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) called on the French government to take responsibility for the long-term damage that it has caused.

In a report last year, the Nobel Peace Prize winning group highlighted that, “The majority of the waste is in the open air, without any security, and accessible by the population, creating a high level of sanitary and environmental insecurity”.

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In addition to all of this, Algeria is still waiting to be told where the toxic waste was buried, a demand that ICAN also stressed.

Jean-Claude Hervieux, a French electrician who worked on the nuclear testing efforts in Algeria told DW, “When we left Algeria, we dug large holes and we buried everything”.

Furthermore, doubt continues to shroud all the facts related to these and other colonial crimes committed by the French state as they scrambled to maintain power over Algeria, and later refused to even acknowledge the chapter in the country’s history.

Important archives pertaining to the 132 years of occupation are yet to be returned or made public, for example. 

The list of colonial horrors linked to these tests includes rounding up Algerians from internment camps and prisons and tying them to pillars to analyse the impact of nuclear explosions on their skin.

The victims of France’s nuclear tests were not limited to Algerians (then and now).

The French government also faced backlash from former soldiers and settlers involved in the nuclear tests that were being conducted in Algeria. Veterans from the French colonisation of Polynesia have similarly since suffered the consequences of participating in these operations with little to no protection.

The French nuclear test veterans’ association Aven, forced the state to recognise the suffering caused to some 150,000 military personnel.

Despite decades of denying that the tests led to their infertility and illnesses, the government introduced a bill that would compensate these victims.

Algerians, however, are yet to even receive a basic recognition for the consequences of these events. Just one Algerian among hundreds has reportedly been compensated so far. 

This all adds further clarity as to why Macron decided not to apologise or pay reparations for the colonial crimes committed by his Republic: Not only would the reparations be considerable, but they would involve generations of Algerians who continue to be plagued by the consequences of France’s desperate attempt to be recognised as a leading world power in the second half of the 20th century. 

He offers symbolic but broadly irrelevant gestures, and makes sure to avoid anything that could impact France’s economic and political grip

As Hamouchene aptly stated, it’s not enough simply “denouncing these colonial and neo-colonial legacies, and raising awareness for the people whose health, bodies, land and livelihoods have been sacrificed in order to accumulate wealth and concentrate power […] we need to address these issues through a justice lens and through democratic and reparative ways (moral and material reparations)”.

Given Macron has chosen “truth” as a key theme within the commission on French colonisation of Algeria, whether he will completely avoid recognition of this dark chapter – among many others – is yet to be seen.

Nevertheless, let’s not hold our breath. Macron has been tactical in how he has approached the “reconciliation” that he has supposedly committed to with the Algerian state.

Returning the skulls of those Algerians barbarically killed for resisting French colonisation is meaningless in the face of the continued suffering and death of the earth, people and species in the Sahara desert at the hands of the same barbarians.

The French left no trace of their “civilising mission”, despite their claims. Only death and destruction. Without recognition and reparation, that legacy will continue to live on. 

Note 1: No matter how loud are the current outcries, the activities of the administration of a “past” colonial power expresses its “pride” of having colonized other people. The administration reflects the “pride” of its people, of “past power” and its urge to rekindle that power in other forms and shapes.

Note 2: There is No logic in “political economics”: this Europe that experienced successive famine periods, still colonized people who had learned to decently survive under their acquired customs and traditions. Political economics is a fancy term for wicked Greed.


Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.

Read more:  How France’s refusal to right historical wrongs marred a reconciliation project with Algeria

Shifting from Steady Growth to Economy of Sobriety?

Note: re-edit of “Economy of Sobriety (August 1, 2009)”

There is a growing political economics trend for substituting the traditional steady growth and productivity policies into an economy of sobriety.

The Slow Food and Slow Cities movements, along with many European communities exercising self autonomy in the economic policies of their districts, are practicing on a smaller scale the concept of “living better for less”.

The latest economic downturn (2008 crisis financial and current Covid-19 pandemics) is re-confirming that the previous policies are hindrance to global resolutions for global problems.

The middle class has increased 3 folds within less than two decades.

China and India have added over 300 millions to the 200 millions in the USA, Europe and Japan.

This quickly increasing middle class is demanding equal standards of living as in the USA ,simply because they can afford to purchase the same consumer goods for their comfort and are doing it.

World resources in minerals, rare minerals, oil, and wood .. are depleting and no longer accessible to sustain the current rate of consumption. 

Regular people are not interested in the concept of “faster is better” or “more performing is better”:

1. they would rather fly safely at more affordable fees;

2. they would rather that customs and airport regulations quicken the pace and alleviate faster the hassle.

3. The regular people would rather have moderately performing equipment that last longer and that are more robust under less than standard conditions in the developed nations.

4. Regular people cannot afford to re-invest for products considered obsolete within a couple of years.

5. Regular people would rather not to have to repaint or maintain their plumbing and electrical lines frequently.

6. Regular people would rather have potable water running on schedule;

7. Power utilities providing electricity less irregularly rather than the  increased rate for the luxury families of high consumption.

8. Regular people want public transportation arriving on schedule, accessible, and available in cities and in rural areas.

9. Regular people are not that interested in caviar and luxury items; they need flour, rice, sugar, and seasonal vegetables and fruits marketed locally and not exported overseas.

10. Regular people need a wider network of public libraries and public schools.

11. Regular people want the teachers to be paid right in order to be retained and compete with private expensive private schools.

12. Regular people need preventive health institutions.

The industrial nations have got to support sustainable economies in Africa, Latin America, and in the Middle East and desist from mass exploitation of natural resources and human miseries.

Kuwait, Qatar, and Libya (before the colonial powers decided to break it up) are already investing billions in agricultural businesses in Africa; they are renting lands for 99 years and hiring thousands of Africans in jobs they are proficient in and within their own States.

There is definitely an anthropological crisis: the traditional growth policies are uneconomical, anti-social, and anti-ecological.

Decentralized economies serving restricted regions are more sustainable and are solicited by citizens.

Institutions have to be revamped in that direction and up-down laws are no longer cherished.

In fact, less restrictive local laws are the best recourse to taming the monster of global totalitarianism in the making.

Catastrophic crisis are not teaching anything in behavioral change: they simply increase the level of fear, anxiety, and apathy.

Continuing in the same trend is tantamount of letting this monster of totalitarianism starting sniffing around for another round of human calamities (already all States are abusing of “emergency laws” during this pandemics).

Most probably, totalitarian regimes, established in order to control outbursts and uneasiness, will mushroom in industrialized States because

1) they can afford these kinds of institutions,

2) they have already the sophisticated and all encompassing control institutions, and

3) they have practiced it several times in many nations within the last decades.

Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union experienced it efficiently.  France applied it to spread its public secular system of education in order to unify its nation. The USA applied it during the two Administrations of George W. Bush.

Currently, China is the most effective totalitarian regime. 

Millions of workers are transferred and displaced by a simple order of the politburo; millions succumb to eugenic practices on simple obscure laws; millions die in mining accidents and famine; gigantic dams are disturbing millions of people without recourse or participation by the citizens.

The third world states will always enshrine dictators, state political parties, and oligarchies but they will never afford totalitarian regimes for lack of sustainable institutions.

The best you might expect of third world states is organized chaos and periodic clamping down on dissidents.  There will be time when the “industrialized citizens” will opt to immigrate to Third World States and live in sobriety just to recapture the taste of freedom and liberty.

Note: Remember this article was posted more than a decade ago. And nothing changed drastically enough to hope for a more sustainable world in economics and finance.


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